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Kumulipo

by Hugh D. Mailly
The Kumulipo is a very long Hawaiian chant consisting of over two thousand lines. Ancient Kahuna would memorize every word, and recite them at important events, such as the festival of the high god Lono.

Much of Hawaiian folklore can also be identified in other parts of the Pacific area known as Polynesia. It is therefore no surprise to find that the Maori of New Zealand have a similar tradition as the Kumulipo, which they call Wharewananga, or "school of learning". The old cultures of Tahiti, the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, and even Easter Island, also contain similar recitals.

The Kumulipo is divided into two distinct time periods.

The first, called "po", is the age of the spirit world. everything is in darkness, and it is not clear if the earth exists, or if the events described occur in some other, transcendental place. In this era, lower living forms come to be, and the chant depicts the concept of life going through stages similar to the development of a new-born child. One form of matter changes into another, and leads to the existence of early mammals.

The second, called "ao", is started by the coming of light, and of the gods who husband the changing of animals into humans. The evolution is now of one form of life into another. Beginning with the image of a god (tiki), the world of living men and women explodes on a living earth. This is also the time when the light of reason dawns. Life can now cope on its own, and, in the complex form of humans, begins to act otherwise than from impulse. Then proceeds the genealogy of people to the late 1700s when the chant is spoken to the last divine child born who can be traced back to the very beginning, when gods were still on earth, and the first human was born.

The last time the full Kumulipo is known to have been solemnly recited, was in 1789. This was in honor of Captain Cook, who was thought to be the god Lono returning to Hawaii.


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